Journeys: Small towns made famous

See original article in Groupaway Magazine here
Hollywood brings recognition and group tours to sleepy cities

Only the magic of Hollywood can turn a beach town on the North Carolina coast into a haven for young teenage girls or a small Pennsylvania city into a destination for comedy enthusiasts. And only the fantasy world of a novel can turn a rainy, quiet town in upstate Washington into a haven for vampire lovers. Thanks to appearances in well-known television shows and movies, small towns across the country are gaining notoriety and a new visitor market.

FORKS, WASHINGTON
Before the “Twilight” book series came along, Forks, Wash., was simply a small fishing town outside Olympic National Park in the northwestern corner of the county. Now, a pale teenager with a thirst for blood has turned it into a mecca for vampire lovers of all ages. In 2008, 18,736 visitors signed the guestbook at the Forks visitors center. So far this year, 43,000 visitors have scribbled their names down, says Marcia Bingham, director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce. “It’s simply a fantasy we’re playing in,” she says. “We won the lottery, that’s how I look at it.”

Tour groups escaping to the tiny town are not all love-struck teenagers who want to catch a glimpse of actor Robert Pattinson, Bingham says. Families and over-40 travelers are increasing, too. Dazzled by Twilight (dazzledbytwilight.com) has three tours a day throughout the year, with a special evening tour in the summer, which bring the “Twilight” world to life. Each two- to three-hour tour features a guided trip through Forks. For $39, the tour includes a snack or lunch and photo ops at attractions from the books and movies.

Forks Adventures (forksadventures.com) allows “Twilight” enthusiasts to spend more time engulfed in the fantasy. The two-, three- and four-day tours range from $320 to $650 per person and travel down the Washington coast and Olympic Peninsula for more attractions.

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA
The coastal town of Wilmington, N.C., is a scenic spot with clear beaches and warm weather. But look a little closer and you might see teenage heartthrobs and Hollywood actors. This town of more than 100,000 has been the setting for television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “One Tree Hill,” and movies like “A Walk to Remember.” Connie Nelson of the Cape Fear Convention and Visitors Bureau says 400 movies and television shows have been filmed in Wilmington, making it quite an entertainment-junkie destination.

Wilmington’s Screen Gems Studios (screengemsstudios.com), the largest studio in North Carolina, currently offers tours of the “One Tree Hill” set. One-hour group tours for 20 or more are available most days of the week. The tours must be reserved one month in advance and require a non-refundable deposit of $200.

Tours by Hollywood Location Walk of Old Wilmington cover several film locations in an hour-and-a-half (hollywoodnc.com). Adults are $12; seniors, students and military are $10; and children 6 and younger are free. Private group tours are available.

SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA
If one of the weddings you couldn’t miss last year was for Jim and Pam on NBC’s “The Office,” then you probably know about Scranton, Pa. The city, home to about 75,000 residents, is where the popular show is set. Students from the University of Scranton offer four-hour tours once a month. Highlights include visits to The Mall at Steamtown and Lake Scranton, lunch at Cooper’s and drinks at Poor Richard’s (theofficeconvention.com). Tickets are $45 for adults, $35 for children (under 21) and include a gift bag. Remaining dates are Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.

— Laura Smith

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